Category Archives: Web Marketing

New ways to create and measure sites so they improve their ability to bring your best customers closer and attact other individuals just like them

Verizon and YouTube further doom ad-supported TV

My wife and I love movies. So last night, after watching the Bobby Darin biopic on DVD, Beyond The Sea, my wife was faced with a choice. I had gone to bed, and she could watch television or YouTube.

She chose the latter, because she figured she could view kinescopes of Bobby Darin, to judge how accurately Kevin Spacey depicted the 1950’s crooner. She was right, and YouTube once again rewarded her the way television cannot.

This afternoon we went to a matinee. Arriving early, we whiled away the time before the movie by watching Verizon’s V-Cast streaming video on my cell phone. In the darkened and quiet (pre-trailer) theater, we watched together more 3- to 5-minute eye candy. We chose segments of a favorite fake news program. Once again we were avoiding TV, and in fact circumvented the very ads that help to finance the basic cable programming coming out of my amazing LG 9800.

Bobby Darin on YouTubeThe only limitation to this harmonica-size idiot box is a dearth of interesting programming. But that may soon change.

Verizon and YouTube are reportedly in negotiations over the exclusive distribution of their content to their cell customers. This is exactly the magnitude of “pull” that domestic cell phone providers need to attract a critical mass of American cell phone users to this smallest of screens.

It seems inevitable that very shortly, far more people will be peering into their cell phones instead of at advertising-supported television. Watching the erosion of standard broadcast business models is almost as enthralling as finding on my computer, within minutes, a nearly 50-year-old video recording of Mack The Knife. And soon this idle fun may be portable.

And his teeth were … pearly white.

Verbing your trademark away, and why no one was ever caught yahooing

One of the web’s most famous trademark owners recently had a conniption about people using “to google” and “googling” generically. Today another victim of this brand name erosion — think permission marketing — offers some great advice on branding in the Internet Age. The gist: Chill out. But overlooked is how Google’s superior search engine isn’t the main reason it is them crying in their beers instead of Yahoo.

Mr. Godin takes the long view of these trademark infringements. If someone starts using your brand name generically, and you own that domain name, how much real brand damage can be done? Consumers can find you even if they don’t google you. Oops.

He then talks about the ability of consumers to “verb” your brand in the first place. Comparing two popular social bookmarking sites, Digg and Reddit, you can easily see why only one of them is at risk of genericide. It sounds meaningful when you digg a site. Not so much if you reddit.

Naseem Javed, author of Naming for Power and Domain Wars, sheds more light on how some names are easier to verb than others:

Studies have shown that certain alpha-structures do not easily lend themselves to verbing. Despite their fame and popularity in daily language, these types of names survive over time and remain powerful corporate brands while enjoying a proprietary status. Some examples are Yahoo, Apple, Netscape, Telus, Microsoft, Sony, Rolex and Nintendo. Have you ever heard, “I Rolexed and realized I was late?” or, “Leave me alone, I’m Appling”?

Unlike Mr. Godin, Mr. Javed thinks Google’s easily verbed name is serious reason for concern, and calls this misuse of the brand name, “A corporate nightmare — a code-red alert.”

Which brings me back to Yahoo. They should be happy, right?

Ten years ago when they had a similar market share to what Google has today, people were rollerblading and fedexing but not yahooing. What if people were yahooing in the pre-Google era? (And yes, they actually tried to trigger a trend, with their “Do you Yahoo?” campaign of a few years back.)

If that were so, and the dictionaries featured them in their pages, Google would probably have a little less of the search market today. That’s because folks would sometimes assume someone really did go to Yahoo when they said they yahooed. But they don’t.

If I were Yahoo, I would side with Seth Godin. And I would consider the lack of genericide of their brand name a corporate code-red alert.

Two Flashy search engines vie for eyeballs

What if you were presented with the challenge of grabbing a piece of the search engine pie? Two development teams approached the challenge with the same programming application and produced results that could not be any more different. First on the scene (by several years) is the people at KartOO Technologies. Their search program can be found at KartOO.com.

Click for a larger graphicThese folks specialize in organizing information visually. In the example to the right, I searched for “SAT testing.” The results are plotted out as though they were clusters of information islands. I then moved my mouse over a word in the middle of several islands (“offers”). The modifier showed up in the search box, and the items related to “offers” are highlighted and joined by curved lines. It’s a clever way to parse through popular ways that pages are related — all in a visually entertaining (well, as least intriguing) experience.

Entertainment is definitely the goal of this most recent competitor in the search engine category. I won’t add to the din of bloggers commenting on Ms. Dewey (msdewey.com). All I will say about this comely peer of the late Jeeves (of Ask.com) is she is the most video-centric — and talkative — search experience you are likely to find. And the developers? None other than Microsoft Live Search.

Click for a larger image

Two Macromedia Flash search engines deliver two extremely different experiences. Which is more successful?

Burger King masks and eBay are big this Halloween

Before the internet there was little chance for enterprising types to profit from holiday-generated scarcity. I’m thinking of the Cabbage Patch Kids dolls, which were the must-have collectibles for much of the 1980s, and caused frenzied pre-Christmas rushes at bricks-and-mortar stores. Now there are online markets to help resolve supply / demand imbalances. I was reminded of this as I talked to my friend at BuyCostumes, the world’s largest e-commerce costume site.

Earlier this month I wrote that if you remove the constraints of shelf space dictated by a physical costume store, you see the same Long Tail sales trends that other categories experience (at BuyCostomes, at least). When variety of product is virtually unlimited (pun intended), niche sales can be very profitable.

Conversely, when there is a lot of demand for something in limited supply, not only will you sell out quickly, but you’ll see that product continue through the food chain until it finds its ideal price. Certainly for Christmas items, but also for Halloween, which is now the second largest American holiday in terms of spending.

A fact I was reminded of when I learned that Burger King costumes are big this year.

BuyCostumes has an exclusive deal to sell these masks this year, and sold nearly 2,000 of them over the course of about 6 hours (cumulatively, because they sold them in batches over several days).

The retail price was $39.99. Many who scooped them up immediately put them back on the market. My contact at BuyCostumes guessed they were going for as much as $80 each on eBay and finally settled down to $65, including shipping and handling. Unfortunately, the speculators, plus eBay and perhaps pay-per-click ad sites (see the ads on the Google search I did this weekend) were the only parties to profit from this demand spike.

For several years I’ve been reading that movie theaters are talking about putting their tickets for extremely busy nights up for a higher price than normal, and conversely, marketing their slow nights at lower ticket costs. That day is still a long way off, for social reasons and not technical ones.

Similarly, I wonder if holiday-related e-commerce sites should consider having their own markets for their hottest products, so they can benefit from these demand spikes. After all, oil companies do it. And isn’t a Burger King mask that can be re-sold many times on eBay and Craigslist just as fungible as a gallon of sweet crude?

The only constraint I can think of: Society may not be prepared to have a merchant with exclusive rights to a product take every action to benefit from its popularity. The negative PR implications of an online auction by the seller may be too great, leaving the opportunity in the hands of the speculators and eBay.

You’ve got to wonder. If the frantic parents outside the toy stores of the 1980’s were told there would be an auction for the last 10 Cabbage Patch Kids, and “Who will start the bidding at $100?” … would there be a riot? And would there be a flame-fest from consumers if modern-day eTailers did the same?

Web navigation for those who want to cut to the chase

A friend sent me this Marketing Sherpa article about a great web design approach: Build in a button for those Type A folks who just want the facts.

Type A screen capture from an ad agency web siteIt’s clever idea. The article has links to the site, which is for an ad agency. I suggest you give it a look.

The idea does bring up a greater point: Are you identifying your target audience precisely enough to match their varying browsing styles and needs? Doing so isn’t all that far-fetched.

I’m a big advocate of persuasion architecture, which is a term coined by Brian and Jeffrey Eisenberg of Future Now. It’s a process by which you segment the universe of customers and prospects visiting your site. Segmentation is by persona — which the brothers define as general personality archetypes. These are stereotypes, if you will, for how specific consumers feel about your site’s products or services. 

It all sounds very squishy, and frankly I do find it a little too high-minded sometimes. I’m more of the behavioral type. Generalizing on anything other than past actions can sometimes lead you in circles.

But I am nonetheless deeply indebted to the Eisenberg brothers for taking this idea and extending it to the practice of building pages that contain navigation and content unique for that persona. In other words, if you sell online home security products, and know that a worried single parent is a key persona type, be sure you address this person’s many questions and fears in a systematic way … and also, offer little other navigation or content along that funnel.

The object of persuasion architecture is to move people in an orderly fashion through their decision-making steps, one click at a time. The prize: To unfailingly lead consumers to a sale.

Persuasion architecture is a much-needed breath of fresh air. For the right site, I can see it rewarding Type A people for identifying themselves. And in doing so, rewarding the site owner with a higher sales conversion rate.

You have no excuse with these new ways to read RSS feeds, from Microsoft and Google

Once adopted by a critical mass of internet users, RSS feeds will change interactive marketing permanently and in a big way. I predicted that the phase shift would happen when Microsoft releases the new Vista operating system, in the spring. Published reports suggest that the sea change begins much sooner, as in today. That’s when Microsoft’s new version of Internet Explorer (IE) begins distribution through free downloaded upgrades.

Here’s how Steve Rubel of Micro Persuasion reports this news in his blog yesterday (The Day the Entire World Gets RSS):

As more people around the world start reading RSS feeds, big things will happen. [The orange RSS button on the new IE toolbar] will force everyone to begin integrating feed communication initiatives in their marketing and PR programs. News and blog posts are just the beginning. Couponing and all kinds of other communiques will go into feeds, as well as ads and more. That little orange button might look small, but boy is it big.

If you’re a marketer who (1) hasn’t started using RSS yet, and (2) doesn’t use IE regularly, you can still experience what RSS can offer. And you really must! Try the new, free Google Reader. That’s what I use and it’s terrific. Gina Trapani in the excellent blog LifeHacker.com compares this new feed reader to Bloglines, and she agrees that Google, although sometimes criticized for lackluster product introductions, really got it right with this recent product upgrade.

I have a theory that more people today will be setting up a new Google Reader account than ever before. Why? Because Microsoft has officially entered the RSS arena. As usual, Microsoft’s involvement will change everything. And that means that many who use Firefox or other IE competitors will realize that they can no longer sit on the sidelines and had better see what this RSS stuff is all about.

Scrutinizing the long tail of Halloween

Jon Krouse is in a perfect position to help me test a hypothesis about long tail behavior. A co-founder of OnMilwaukee.com (a rare success story among regional online communities), Jon recently joined BuyCostumes.com. This is the world’s largest online retailer of costumes. As you can imagine, the month of October is major crunch-time for him.

Nonetheless, when I instant messaged him the other day to see if I could test an assertion from Chris Anderson, Jon was willing to help. Anderson is a Wired editor and most notably the author of The Long Tail. He contends that for companies with virtual inventories, just about any item they post for sale — no matter how obscure — will sell (i.e., be downloaded for a price) at least once every three months or so. Using sales statistics from Rhapsody.com, he made it sound like this was nothing short of an immutable law.

That’s for virtual inventories. Anderson admits it’s a little trickier for companies with real ones. That’s the case with BuyCostumes. I’ve visited their warehouse, which stores over 13,000 very real SKUs. Yow!.

Companies like this must mark down some items teetering at the tip of the tail before they finally sell. Carrying costs are a constraint that virtual inventory merchants simply don’t have. But the fact is, even real inventory items sell with some price manipulation. Or so Chris Anderson contends. I wanted to know for sure, and asked Jon.

He reported that minor adjustments to price do indeed make the most obscure costumes and accessories sell. Sure, there are the rare dogs, but priced properly, nearly all SKUs generate profits. This is huge, because the number of items offered is a precedent for the industry.

Imagine how many items a bricks-and-mortar costume shop can physically stock. Now consider that at one time quite recently, conventional wisdom was that no one wanted more selection than could be held on a really well-stocked costume shop’s shelves. Or, for that matter, in music store’s bins, or along a bookstore’s stacks.

The web, with its power to categorize, search and suggest, has exploded that myth. Which would mean little to a company like Jon’s if the demand for these products wasn’t so large.

How many sales are anticipated in the next couple of weeks for this humble little online costume shop?

“At our busiest, we’ll be doing 20,000 orders a day*,” Jon reports. Tune in November 1 to see a photo featuring the costumes that my wife and I chose and wore at Jon’s Halloween party, the first in his and Peggy’s new home. 

*It never hurts to advertise. BuyCostumes has major private label deals with major retailers, plus an effective search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising strategy in place.

Commerce sites ignore branding at their peril

Real estate on a web site is precious. That’s one reason why many e-commerce sites cram as much merchandise as possible into the home page. You can’t blame them. Shoehorn one more offer onto the page and you see sales of that item go up. But does this practice erode overall sales?

The research of Kevin Hillstrom looked at overall sales from pure selling sites (example) vs branding sites (example) vs hybrids that split the difference (example). The sites evaluated were those taken from the largest businesses represented in the Internet Top 500 retail sites.

I was most interested in how hybrid sites would fare in the study. Although these hybrid sites featured home page offers, they also used much of its real estate to reinforce the brand. White space was more common, and often these hybrid sites didn’t even require you to scroll down to take in the entire home page.

A business that regards its e-commerce site as nothing more than efficient catalog would argue that the hybrid site approach is misguided, since it is not focusing enough on specific offers. But do the numbers bear this out?

The conclusion from this study says no, although it does find weakness in a pure branding approach to the home page:

It appears likely that a hybrid strategy is most likely to maximize the net sales of each visitor to the website. Selling sites may overwhelm visitors, while branding sites may not present enough merchandise to entice consumers.

Many have preached this hybrid approach, but it’s nice to see this validation. It only stands to reason that consumers need to know two things before they buy:

  1. What are you selling?
  2. Are you to be trusted?

Raising levels of trust, through your site’s branding, is the best way to maximize sales in an environment where competitors are only a mouse click away.

New hypervideo linking cheers news junkies and marketers alike

Imagine that you’re on a web site, watching a video of a talking head. The speaker is talking about something that interests you, but it’s hard to get past the frustration of wishing you could ask her to explain a point further before she goes on to the next. Whereas the rest of the web experience is more of a dialog, with us asking questions by clicking on hypertext links, this video is one way only. She talks, we listen.

Now imagine you can click on a section of the video to drill down to another video clip or web page, offering more information. @View Magazine calls it hyper video drilling, and touts it as a way to add deeper meaning and clarity to brief news videos. In another timely application, politicians can support their sound bites on their sites with supporting content. And advertisers and online marketers are, of course, the other big winners in this new web protocol.

If I can boast for a moment: I should say that with the news of this innovation, I experienced for the second time this week a “We’ve been scooped!” moment.

It’s the sensation that my team’s recent brainstorms have already been taken and run with by others. Far from being disappointed, I’m thrilled. It means we’re thinking the right way and finding creative ways to bridge the needs of both our clients and their audiences. The marketplace is validating our work.

Moreover, these widespread introductions of new technologies* are paving the way for acceptance by a mass audience.

Take the example of this hyper video drilling: When we were brainstorming about how wonderful it would be to click off of the talking head videos we were building into a site, and thereby see supporting documentation (in this case demonstrations of the technology described by the speakers), we knew we could build it pretty easily in Flash, but run the risk of it going underused. Or worse, it could confuse unfamiliar users!

Awareness of new user interfaces is notoriously slow to grow.

Think of the hypertext link: It’s a fundamental benefit of the web, but it took a while for the average web user to fully recognize that some text on a page can be clicked on to go somewhere else (those readers under the age of 30 need to talk to your grandparents to fully grasp this sad fact).

Same goes for clicking off of videos. I’m thrilled that this is being tested and talked about widely. It’s clearly the next step in the evolution of online video. And it leaves to groups like mine the thrilling opportunity of how best to leverage this new web convention.

*The other incidence of us being “scooped” was discovering that our ideas exactly — and I mean to the letter — had been accomplished. The idea was how to express visually and with movement and “drillability” the connections in an online community such as Facebook. It’s demonstrated in this video (it loads slowly — be patient), of a visual browser created by UC Berkley Ph.D. students Jeffrey Heer and Danah Boyd. Amazing stuff, and encouraging.

Legend has it that the telephone was invented simultaneously by at least two labs in two countries, and similar innovations have had similar simultaneous origins. If I can be indulged a little more bragging, I’m encouraged that the marketing technology “lab” I’m affiliated with is working at solving the right problems at the right time.

37signals has made a splash by keeping things simple

A recent post on the 37signals blog helped explain how their project management product was born: Turn the tables on that petty tyrant MS Project. Everyone I’ve talked to who uses Project has the same complaint. It gets the job done but it’s painfully complicated.

The Chicago-based 37signals decided to do something about this complexity and created the award-winning Basecamp. It’s a smart strategy. Users occasionally need to push the limits of their software, but far more often, they just want to get their work done.

I was reminded of this as I had dinner tonight with a friend who has recently taken the plunge and bought an iMac. After working with nothing but PCs, his response was almost comical: “What have I been missing all these years?!?” On the Apple site they list reasons for “Why you’ll love a Mac.” The first: It just works.

We all pine for the day when something actually gets simpler instead of more complex. Those who deliver simplicity and still allow us to get work done win our hearts and our pocketbooks.

Is it any wonder that the biggest threat to email marketing — if you want to call this new, complementary tactic a threat — is something whose middle name is simple? Really Simple Syndication, known more commonly as RSS, is catching on because you don’t have to fill out a form, you don’t have to open an email program, and you don’t have to go beyond reading headlines, should you prefer not to. Like the iMac, RSS just works.

Read the 37signals blog entry and see if you agree: The Davids of the world are continuing to win their battles against Goliaths, especially if they stick to what’s simple. While you’re at it, take a look at some of the blog’s other entries. This is one of the best “corporate” blogs I’ve come across, if you can call it corporate. These folks really know how to use mildly subversive content to drive home points that also happen to advance their brand. They’re just themselves, warts and all.

Simply refreshing.

Selling policy and teaching law on virtual islands

One thing in particular strikes me as extraordinary about Second Life, the online community game that stretches the definitions of both community and gaming. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m most impressed with its demographics. Second Life’s 750,000+ “residents” are older than most online gamers, and much more evenly split in terms of gender. Their communities’ inhabitants are much closer demographically to the real world, and most would probably tell you they aren’t playing a game at all. They’re simply … living.

So it should not be too surprising that a real world recording artist has given a concert there (Suzanne Vega) and a real life presidential hopeful has campaigned there (former Virginia governor Mark Warner).

These online community firsts were reported in this week’s excellent On The Media podcast / NPR broadcast. And although they are impressive, I think you’ll agree that the online appearances of trailblazing musicians and politicians are a little too “fringey” to suggest further marketing possibilities.

Then, a few hours after hearing that podcast, I read more details about how Harvard is teaching a law course on an “island” that it has purchased on Second Life.

Yes, one way you can take CyberOne: Law in the Court of Public Opinion is in a virual Second Life classroom. The course description explains that it is, “A course in persuasive, empathic argument in the Internet space.” Students will be, “Studying many different media technologies to understand how their inherent characteristics and modes of distribution affect the arguments that are made using them.”

What separates this genuine taste of things to come from mere headline-grabbing gimmickry is the way the subject of study actually becomes the medium of discourse:

“Students will be immersed in this study through project-based assignments in which they will be using these technologies to make their own arguments.” [Emphasis is mine.]

Having learned about using this medium within the medium, these students will be ready to help the future Mark Warners win real votes in virtual spaces. And if you can sell policy, you can sell a heck of a lot of other things.

Instead of businesses spinning their wheels trying to set up things like MySpace profiles for their brands, perhaps they should start looking at creating Second Life avatars for their brand spokespeople to use to polish their online persuasion skills. If done right, these businesses could find prospects who are closer to the demographics of their customers, and much more willing to hear what they have to say.

NOTE: Another recent piece on Second Life is in the Wall Street Journal. Read about how clothing designers for this online world are creating and selling fashions designed to turn avatar heads.